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Interior Revolution Towards a New Paradigm

Andrew Benner | IIDA | ASID | IDEC

Interior Discontent

Rethinking the Workplace


The Revolution Begins

Towards a New Paradigm

Interior Discontent

The average American spends nine tenths of their life indoors often to find interior spaces that are unsatisfactory, crowded, disorganized, depressing.....

“Lots of businesses are run by crass people who create hellholes. They make little bitty cubicles and stuff people in them. Barren, rathole places.” – Robert Propst

The people have taken to the streets to fight for better interior space.

They are the 90


“Robert Oppenheimer agonized over building the A-bomb. Alfred Nobel got queasy about creating dynamite. Robert Propst invented nothing so destructive.Yet before he died in 2000, he lamented his unwitting contribution to what he called “monolithic insanity.”

Today: The Action Office concept remains the mainstay of workplace design

After spending the last 15 years in the commercial interior desig and contract furniture industries, I have seen cubicle after cubicle in office spaces. I have been responsible for many of them entering the workplace. Back in the 1960’s when Herman Miller introduced the Action Office system; Bob Probst created a paradigm shift that has remained with us for decades. “The year was 1968. Nixon won the presidency. The Beatles released The White Album. And home-furnishings company Herman Miller in Zeeland, Mich., launched the Action Office. It was the brainchild of Bob Propst, a Coloradan who had joined the company as director of research (Schlosser 2006).” With the dawn of a new millennium, designers and office workers are again challenging the design of the office and a new paradigm in office design has emerged. The cubicle was and continues to be hugely successful. The way it deals with technology, the flexibility to adapt to changes in the office and its efficient maximization of space have helped its users to realize lower real estate and construction costs. The problem is that the cubicle has trapped the office worker in a sea of tall walls. These walls have limited employee’s ability to communicate and collaborate. They have also reduced or eliminate worker access to natural daylight. Natural daylight has been proven to increase worker productivity and well-being: “ Sustainable buildings have aided the strategic performance of companies in retaining employees, reducing absenteeism, promoting the organization’s image, improving organizational productivity, and reducing building operating costs (Heerwagen 2000).”

Rethinking the Workplace

When Zurich North America approached Midwest Office Interiors, they were looking to change the entire culture of the organization with two main goals: 1. With close to 80% of their staff poised to retire in the next ten years, they need to attract and retain the best and brightest of the next generation of workers by creating a more vibrant and collaborative work environment. 2. Reduce operating costs by reducing the footprints occupied in the expensive real estate markets they operate in, and by incorporating sustainable design principles to decrease energy costs and increase employee productivity. Midwest worked with Nelson’s interiors team to conduct initial programming studies and space analyses. Most of the schematic design was completed by Midwest under the direction of Zurich’s internal facilites and real estate team. The design development and contract documents were a collaboration between Midwest and Kansas City design firm, Rees Masilionis Turley. Finally the team worked with owner’s representative, UGL - Equis to execute the build out of the “test pilot” completed in April 2009.

Attraction and retention

Midwest and Rees Masilionis worked with Zurich’s HR department to manage the change. The “New Deal” concept is now the standard for Zurich and its subsidiary, Farmers Insurance nationwide. Where implemented, Zurich has realized real estate savings up to 40 percent.

When Red Bull’s lease was up at their Midwest regional office located in Oak Brook, the client decided it was time to move to the city to provide an urban setting to host clients and motivate their staff. Red Bull looked at a host of spaces in the loop, but finally choose 180 N. Wacker because of it’s “urban loft” feel. Midwest Office Interiors worked with design firm, Techno from schematic design through contract administration on this fast paced project. Working with the employees that were to use the space, Techno and Midwest provided solutions that gave Red Bull a high tech feel, but respected and highlighted the existing architecture of 180 N. Wacker. The Red Bull staff took occupancy of the space in May 2009 amd love being in the heart of the city. They also love the fact that they have gorgeous views of the Chicago River, free Red Bull at anytime, a lounge and the fact that each office and workspace was customized to the end users needs.

Appealing to a new generation

The offices were even featured in the Red Eye’s 10 Coolest Places to Work. From the Red Eye, “Can you pimp out your cubicles like celebs do their homes on MTV’s “Cribs”? Yep, and Red Bull has pimped out its entire office. They’ve got everything: game room, bar, and best of all - free Red Bull anytime. My guess is it’s to help keep all their employees and extreme athletes energetic during long nights at the office.” The new office at 180 N. Wacker gives Red Bull wings.

The late nineties saw the acquisition of many smaller independent banks by large publicly traded financial institutions. Evergreen Community Bank founder, John Camphouse had seen the same thing happen to the bank he served as an executive at for decades. John approached Midwest to help him create a new community bank to serve Evergreen Park and the surrounding community. An adaptive re-use of a closed hair salon, Midwest was involved with project from inception. Evergreen Community Bank wanted to spruce up 95th Street by creating an upscale, traditional building. Midwest worked with the client to select an architect and oversee the entire exterior and interior design. Starting from the inside out, Midwest worked with architect, John Kraii to create a traditional and attractive exterior for the bank. Midwest created all of the specifications and drawings for the millwork and teller line. We also specified and procured the furniture, fixtures and equipment for the project. Evergreen Community Bank opened for business in Decmber, 1998. Although the bank has sinced merged with another financial institution, it still stands on 95th Street as the one of the first buildings that sparked the street’s revitalization.

Revitalizing a community


Design: a collaborative and iterative process

For our first set of experiments, the group met to observe Harrington’s atrium and decide which systems within the space we wanted to explore. Quickly, energy emerged as a strong idea that was experienced. We focused on two types of energy, kinetic and emotional. The kinetic energy was experienced by people moving through the space, both vertically and horizontally. Kinetic energy was also a part of the physical systems of the space with the elevators moving up and down, and doors opening and closing. The other energy we examined was the collective emotional energy experienced by students and faculty as they move through the space. We hypothesized that this would build in intensity as the semester progressed, reaching a peak during finals week. We constructed boards and physical model to demonstrate these ideas. The boards reflected differently people’s emotional responses to the space and interconnected them through a web of collective conscious. The physical model showed the space through a section that had increasing energy levels as displayed on 15 transparencies, one for each week of the semester.

Capturing the emotional energy of a campus

The ups and downs of a 15 week semester

The next set of experiments dealt more with the time-based systems in the space. Not only did we have this idea of the collective emotional energy increasing over the duration of the semester, we discovered a possibly more quantifiable system: the changes in traffic patterns and movement through the space based on time of day. We constructed another physical model which again focused on the transparent nature of the space, and added the idea of physical movement through the space. We also created a Rhino model that combined the two major systems we were working with, emotional energy and movement. From our critique of this work and group reflection, we realized that we had not really quantified this idea of emotional energy and how it increases throughout the term. Most of our information was based on personal experiences or pure speculation. We decided to further explore our other trajectory and focus on the system of movement and physical activity in the space.

For the future experiments, we focused on three quantifiable parameters, density, time and movement. We quantified the data by using the class schedule and observing movement through the space. We used a class showing class size, location, day and time as one tool to inform our future experiments. Using this data, we were able to bring the data for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday into a Rhino model. Each day became a unique iteration which was combined with the sectional view of the space. These shapes also became the basis for our solution space cube. Now, we had moved from being purely “magicians” pulling solutions from a hat to “surgeons” operating on quantifiable tame-based systems occurring within the space. Our final model was derived from taking section cuts of this new Rhino model at different times of different days and overlapping them to create a new outcome. These outcomes where again brought into a physical model that contained transparent layers. Throughout the process, the group has seen how very quantifiable systems data could be used to inform unintended, interesting consequences.

Inhabiting Public Space

For this project, I have applied the design principles of Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter as expressed in “Collage City.” Rebelling against the ideas of modernist architecture and the idea that everything needs to follow a hierarchal master plan, they see the designer as one who successfully melds seemingly disparate entities that form a bricolage. These principles are similar to those expressed by Christopher Alexander in a “City is not a Tree,” and French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari in “Capitalism and Schizophrenia” when they discussed the idea of a rhizome. The social issue that I intend to address in my design is the re-thinking of corporate culture and how we motivate workers in a new economy that is based on collaboration and creativity. Just as Rowe, Koetter, and Alexander have challenged the ideals put forth by the modernists, Daniel Pink in his book “Drive” suggests that it is also time to re-think how we organize and manage our companies. This interactive kiosk will educate visitors about what workers need to be innovative and creative: “autonomy, mastery and purpose.” Pink’s book and this installation challenge the notion that the best ideas are dictated top down, but rather require a collage, semi-lattice, or rhizome approach. This type of approach to business explains why the industrial design firm, IDEO has been hugely successful and their clients are asking them to redesign their business as well. It also explains why “Wikipedia” is successful and Microsoft’s “Encarta” is no longer. The location for this project is the lobby of The Hyatt Center. Located at 71 S. Wacker Drive, it’s unique design and shape attracts attention from walkers by and motorists on Wacker Drive. The building houses corporate offices, so the tenants of the building their visitors would be the target audience for this kiosk. The Hyatt Center is also known for its custom art installations and the architect Henry Cobb’s idea of “Skyscraper” as citizen. Its form is inspired by an actual rhizome and allow for its visitors to take place in the constantly evolving idea process. The rhizome branches off in three directions. The first direction is the entrance, but also acts as the exit. The other two directions either to the right or left of the center core are the idea stations. Using touch screen LCD technology, one screen lets visitors sketch their thoughts and the other lets them type. The information is collected and displayed in the 20 foot high center core on 4 non-interactive screens. The idea here is that the best ideas are often not generated at the top, or centrally and then spread out. However, the center core does take in the ideas and shares them with all. My vision is for these “Rhizomes” to be replicated in other office buildings throughout the western world. Then the central core will share ideas worldwide. Finally, the first direction is also the last. Visitors will exit the “Rhizome” knowing the creative potential that exists within themselves and others. The will be able to apply this creativity to solve problems that they face at their jobs, or in society in general. Business leaders will see the creative potential that exists in all of us. They will realize that the best ideas are not generated top down, but can come from anywhere when the people generating them are powered by intrinsic motivation. The sense of satisfaction that comes in doing something out of the joy of doing it; because, we have automation over the process, it serves a larger purpose, and we want to achieve mastery at the skill. This can help prepare our businesses for a new, more sustainable way of looking at “management” in the new economy.

Rhizome at the Hyatt Center A Body (Without Organs) of Change

Site of intervention: Chicago’s Hyatt Center

Enter the Rhizome

Sketch your ideas.

“We suppose that the political implications of total design are nothing short of devastating� Rowe and Koetter

“There is a mismatch between what science knows and business does.� Daniel Pink

Write your thoughts.

See what others have shared.

“Craftsmanship names an enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake� Richard Sennett

“A rhizome has no beginning and no end: it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.� Deleuze and Guattari

Let the Rhizome grow.

The Revolution Begins

Problem: designed isolation

No connection to community and culture

Solution: Revolution

Towards a New Paradigm

The Revolution will be broadcast.



Paradigm shift: human-centric sustainability

The value proposition of a profession?

The Revolution continues...

About the author: I am an interior designer with over 15 years of commercial design experience, and a design educator with over 7 years of teaching experience. I am currently a full time faculty member at The International Academy of Design and Technology – Chicago. I have held that role for over two years. Prior to that, I held the position of Vice President of Professional Services at Midwest Office Interiors. There, I managed and lead the project management, corporate proposal, and design teams. I received my BFA in interior design in 2001, am a NCIDQ certificate holder, a professional member of IIDA, ASID, and IDEC. I have also been a member of the Illinois Chapter of IIDA’s Board of Directors since 2008. I completed was awarded my Master of Interior Design degree from the Harrington College of Design after successful defense of my thesis in August, 2012. When I first entered college, I majored in criminal justice and sociology after being impacted by the Rodney King beating and rampant police brutality. Then I made a change to business management, and worked as an operations manager in the restaurant industry. I found my home in design, but these earlier experiences have shaped my interests. As a designer, I have embraced both the creative and technical side of our profession. I have always believed in the value that the design professions bring to the table, but understand that we need to speak the language of business while using our skills to improve social situations. I am not sure that I would have phrased it that way at the time, but since entry into the profession, I have always championed the triple bottom line. Design needs to be beautiful, but it also needs to serve the needs of the user, bring economic value, and be environmentally sustainable to show its value to the general public.

Interior Revolution  

Americans spend an average of 90% of their lives indoors, and they are fed up with bad space. They have taken to the streets, occupying Wall...